Use trail etiquette when hiking

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Spring time draws people outdoors for fun. Outside activities are a great way to get fresh air and sunshine, both of which are important to good health. If you plan to do any hiking this spring or during the summer, there are several issues to keep in mind. Maintaining proper trail etiquette not only helps you preserve natural surroundings. It can also help you avoid problems with DNR officers, forest rangers or other hikers.

Trail etiquette involves your behavior while you’re hiking. Safety and good health come first, of course. It’s likely that you’ll encounter other people while you’re enjoying the natural scenery along a trail. That’s when it’s most important to remember “good hiking manners.”

Yielding the right-of-way is part of trail etiquette

As a rule of thumb, you should always carry plenty of water and first aid supplies while hiking. In addition to safety, good manners are a must. When hiking trails that are wide enough for you and your companions to walk shoulder-to-shoulder, a “traffic jam” might occur if other hikers approach. This can occur from behind, as well as in an oncoming fashion. The following list includes trail etiquette reminders that will help you keep the peace and share the road in a friendly manner:

  • If someone is approaching you from behind on foot or by bicycle at a faster pace than you’re traveling, it is polite to step aside and let him or her pass.
  • When walking shoulder-to-shoulder, if someone is trying to pass or approaching you head-on, it’s proper trail etiquette to fall in behind one another single file.
  • If there’s oncoming hiking or biking traffic on a hill, the person traveling uphill always has the right-of-way.
  • Hikers with special needs (wheel chair, crutches, etc.) always have the right-of-way, no matter which direction they’re headed.

If a person going uphill tells you they’d like to yield to take a break, then it’s acceptable for you to go first if you’re descending a hill. There may be times when you’re unsure who has the right-of-way on a hiking trail. In such cases, it’s always best to yield, similar to approaching an intersection at the same time as other drivers in a motor vehicle. It’s safer and more polite to yield than to be aggressive on a hiking a trail.

Use a bell or voice signals when passing

bell on bicycle handle bars

If you are approaching hikers on a trail and would like to pass, ringing a bell is considered proper trail etiquette. It’s also nice if you let the hikers in front know which side you plan to pass on. For instance, you can ring your bell and call out, “Passing on the left please!” If you don’t have a bell, using the voice signals only is perfectly acceptable. Someone in front might not hear you approaching from behind, which could cause them to startle when you pass. Ringing a bell or calling out ahead of time is more considerate.

Leaving a place better than you found it is polite trail etiquette

man from shoulders down, gray t-shirt, dark shorts, white tennis shoes, carrying trash bag in one hand and grasping device in another for picking up litter

Especially on trails that cross through state or national parks, there are often stiff penalties for littering or vandalizing a trail. Besides that, it’s simply bad manners to trash a hiking trail. It’s always best to leave a place better than you found it. Hikers often say “leave no sign” as way of reminding each other to clean up their spot after taking a break along a trail. It’s also polite to clean as you go — for instance, if you’re hiking and come upon a pile of litter. If you have a trash bag with you (which you should) you can clean up the mess someone else (who had poor trail etiquette) made.

It’s not polite to hike with an unleashed dog

trail etiquette, blue shirt, black pants, hands holding leash, white dog, green grass

You love your dog. And, he or she might be very well-trained and “good” with people and other animals. That doesn’t mean you should take your dog hiking without first putting a leash on him or her. Proper trail etiquette includes always using a leash when you’re hiking with a dog. No matter how obedient your dog is, you have no way of knowing who or what you might encounter along a trail. Another hiker might be afraid of dogs but will feel more comfortable if you have yours on a leash.

There are also trails where it’s possible for there to be pedestrian hikers alongside people riding horses. If a horse becomes spooked at the sight or movement of your dog, it will be easier to diffuse the situation if you have your dog on a leash. Also, just as it’s bad manners in a neighborhood to allow a dog to defecate without scooping up the droppings, it’s poor form on a hiking trail, as well. Some people might think that, because they’re “out in nature,” it’s okay not to scoop up dog poop. That’s simply not the case. No matter where you are, if your dog has a bowel movement, you should clean it up.

Music is okay, unless it’s loud

trail etiquette, yellow background, girl with long hair flying up above head, light blue short-sleeved shirt, dark pants, holding cell phone, white ear phones on

You might enjoy listening to music while you hike on a trail, which is usually fine. What’s not fine, however, is playing your favorite music loud enough for other hikers to hear it at a distance. Many people hike as a means of gaining peace and quiet. Others might not like the type of music you’re listening to, so it’s impolite to force them to hear it.

Keeping these things in mind helps you maintain proper trail etiquette, preserve natural beauty and enjoy a safe and friendly atmosphere with your fellow hikers. Walking and hiking are excellent choices for outdoor activities that are good for your health!



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